News and Notes" Indy 500
Jets GM Joe Douglas admits to early mistake with quarterback Zach Wilson
The New York Jets are heading into the 2023 season with veteran quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but the organization hasn’t given up on Zach Wilson yet, despite his early struggles.
While Rodgers’ arrival in New York could be interpreted by some as a signal of the end of Wilson’s career with the Jets, general manager Joe Douglas seemingly believes that it’s an opportunity for the young signal caller to learn and perhaps, something that should’ve been done earlier.
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers attends an introductory press conference at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on April 26, 2023, in Florham Park, New Jersey. (Elsa/Getty Images)
"I go back and I look at a lot of things and things that can be done differently, things that were in our control, out of our control," Douglas told Pro Football Talk.
JETS' ZACH WILSON WILL HAVE TO 'SUCK IT UP' AND 'KEEP HIS MOUTH SHUT' WITH AARON RODGERS IN TOWN: RADIO GREAT
"And every situation’s different. I feel like in today’s NFL, when you take a quarterback in the first round, and you take a quarterback high, time’s against you. And you need to see what you have so you can make a decision in that four-year window, three-year window."
Douglas went on to suggest that he believes Wilson could’ve benefited from having a veteran quarterback in the room during his rookie season.
Zach Wilson of the New York Jets looks toward the sideline during the Jacksonville Jaguars game at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 22, 2022, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
"I think going back, it would have been great to have a veteran quarterback like a Joe Flacco that first season. But ultimately, we made the decision to jump in head first with our youth movement."
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He continued: "We know there’s going to be some growing pains, but we’re all going to grow together. I think we saw some of the benefits of that last year. But sometimes you don’t take into account the ramifications of playing a young quarterback early in his career. And so, I think if I had to do everything over again, I would have probably had that veteran presence in the room early for Zach."
The Jets spent the offseason pursuing a veteran quarterback before eventually agreeing to a trade with the Green Bay Packers. But Douglas continues to praise Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft, even after acquiring Rodgers, and remains optimistic about what playing behind the four-time league MVP could mean for his career.
"Zach has an unbelievable ceiling and Zach is wired the right way in terms of his love of the game, his work ethic, his attention to detail. And so, this is a great opportunity for him to shadow one of the best passers of all time in Aaron Rodgers and pick up every little thing he can from him and get better every day," Douglas told PFT.
Zach Wilson of the New York Jets signals at the line of scrimmage against the Detroit Lions at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 18, 2022, in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Before the Rodgers trade had become official, head coach Robert Saleh had a similar approach. He told reporters during the league’s annual owners meeting that Wilson was going to be the backup next season as he continues to develop, adding that he was going to "be a fixture" on the team for the foreseeable future.
"I really still think Zach has a future in this League to be a really good quarterback. I really do," Saleh said in March. "He has the work ethic. He has the mindset, and he’s coming in here to attack it, but yeah, we’re counting on him to be a fixture here for a while."
Michigan Panthers lose three in a row... all at home
Andrew Birkle Courtesy of Detroit Free Press
Oh, how quickly things can change in a football game.
The Michigan Panthers got off to a roaring start on Saturday in their third attempt to get their first win at Ford Field, but some costly early plays flipped the momentum and the Panthers lost, 23-7, to the Pittsburgh Maulers in an abysmal offensive performance.
After the Panthers forced a three-and-out on the Maulers' opening drive, return man Ishmael Hyman stood back to receive a punt. With his heels in the end zone, Hyman made the risky call to take it out. It was a wise move. Hyman weaved through the Maulers' return team all the way down to the Pittsburgh 26. The excellent field position was enough for quarterback Josh Love to capitalize, as he found tight end Cole Hikutini on a play-action pass over the middle from the 5 for the first score of the game.
That's where the offense stopped for Michigan.
The Panthers' Frank Ginda made an impressive diving interception a few plays after their score, but the team went three-and-out and was forced to punt, and that's when things flipped.
Following the punt, Maulers quarterback Troy Williams put together a six-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game. Four plays later, the ball was back in the Maulers' hands when Panthers running back Reggie Corbin fumbled after a great punch-out by defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr.
Again, the Maulers capitalized, needing just four plays to score, and suddenly the Panthers found themselves in a 14-7 hole after taking an early lead.
Another great return for the Panthers, this time from Corbin, put Michigan in Pittsburgh territory. The Panthers were forced into a third-and-12 and a desperate Love tossed it deep into the end zone. The jump ball was intercepted by Mark Gilbert, who was tackled for a touchback.
That was enough for Panthers head coach Mike Nolan, who inserted rookie Carson Strong at QB with just over four minutes before halftime. The Panthers were able to draw some penalties, which helped them get a few first downs, but ultimately were forced to punt after a seven-play drive and the Maulers took a 14-7 lead into the half.
After the third consecutive drive from the Panthers that ended in a punt, the Maulers found some offense and got it down into Panthers' territory. That's when big Panthers defensive tackle Walter Palmore was ejected after a seemingly innocuous shove. However, refereeing expert Mike Pereira said on the USA broadcast that the ref saw Palmore spit on one of the Maulers' players, resulting in an automatic ejection. With the help of the penalty, the Maulers kicked a field goal and made it a 17-7 game.
The Maulers tried to let the Panthers back in the game when Williams fumbled on their own 24-yard line. But the Panthers once again failed to capitalize, with Strong throwing the team's second costly interception in the end zone. The pass was returned to the Michigan 24 by Arnold Tarpley III, dodging half the Panthers team along the way.
After the touchdown on the opening drive, the Panthers' drives ended thusly: punt, fumble, interception, punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, interception, and turnover on downs. They were outgained, 299-152.
Next up, the Panthers will play the fourth and final game of their homestand at Ford Field against the Birmingham Stallions on Saturday at 4 p.m. (Fox).
NASCAR Post Race Quotes
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 SunnyD Ford Mustang – “We had a good car all day. We just could never get up toward the front. Our Sunny Delight Ford Mustang struggled in traffic today, but we were really good at the second half of the run and just struggled at the beginning of the run. We had good track position and then had a bad pit stop under green, but had everything work out at the end. I didn’t have anything for WIlliam. The front is tore up pretty good, but they did a great job and just kind of kept ourselves in the game and you never know what’s gonna happen.”
KEVIN, HOW WAS YOUR DAY? “I think if you would have dropped us in first or second place we probably could have run there. The Fords struggle in traffic with this particular aero package and it’s hard to make up ground, and then we lost a bunch of ground on pit road under the green flag pit stop. Then we got toward the end and missed all the wrecks. Well, we came out the other side of the wrecks. We were in the wrecks, but just didn’t have any damage to the wheels and tires, just structural damage. WIlliam ended up being the only car that didn’t have damage and he just drove off, so still a good day for our Sunny Delight Ford Mustang and we’ll just keep plugging away.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI, No. 6 Castrol GTX Ford Mustang – “I felt like at the end it turned into a wreckfest and we got tore up and salvaged what we could salvage. Ultimately, we were a fifth or sixth-place car all day and ended up fourth. It was a real solid day. I felt like the whole team did a great job. At the end it just turned into chaos and had all those wrecks and I was in the wrong lane and got tore up and from there we were just salvaging what we could, but it’s nice to come out of here with a fourth, a lot of stage points and something to hold our head up high with.”
HARRISON BURTON, No. 21 DEX Imaging Ford Mustang – “I felt like we kind of just bounced around 15th after we lost the top 10 track position early on pit road. That was a mixture of my fault and the pit crew, so it’s kind of nice we got the last caution and it was a chance for both of us to redeem ourselves and felt like we did that and got a decent finish out of it. I’m really proud of the DEX Imaging Ford Mustang guys and the Wood Brothers. It was a fast car. I mean, it felt relative to our alliance teammates at Team Penske. That’s been our goal as of late is to try and run with those guys and, relative to them, we were right there. It’s a good day for us and something to build on.”
HOW BADLY DID THIS TEAM NEED A GOOD FINISH LIKE THIS? “We really needed it. The last few weeks we’ve kind of been on the other side of it, where we’ve been fast and didn’t have anything to show for it. This week was kind of the opposite. We were probably a 10th-place car and finished sixth. That was just about execution at the end, restarts at the end and getting a decent finish.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Dutch Boy Ford Mustang – “Track position was big. We got decent in the second stage. We long-pitted and I thought we made up good ground. We went from 18th to eighth and our car was pretty respectable there. but then the track went tight on us and we lost a little bit of speed and handling. We lined up there at the end and just got caught. They stacked up and destroyed the nose, so it was just one of those days.”
CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Mustang – “We worked hard today with our Fifth Third Bank Ford Mustang to get it better. We got rolling pretty good and avoided the last two wrecks. We really wanted to see what we could do with those last 10 green flag laps to see what we could do with it, but just didn’t get that opportunity. The way this day started, we’d have taken a 10th if you would have told us we could get there. We still have a little work to do, but it’s such a track position sensitive race again. We were just planted and basically stuck and that’s why the restarts are as chaotic as they are.”
A totally unfiltered opinion by
Roy J. Akers
Tigers waking up
Panthers offense is a snooze
The NFL Draft is over and for the Detroit Lions management and the fans, the honeymoon that carried over after the teams 9-8 season is also over.
All offseason, everyone, from mock draft wannabee experts, those in the NFL an anyone with a connection to the NFL said the Lions would take two defensive players. The original thought was the Lions would take a defensive lineman at six and a defensive back at 18.
The problem is none of them had any idea of what was going on at the Lions' team headquarters in Allen Park.
The Lions brain trust of GM Brad Holmes, Coach Dan Campbell and scouts that inform those decisions were never thinking that way. They allowed the talking pundits to zig and they gladly let everyone mislead themselves.
Still, there is a thought that Detroit would have taken Illinois DB Devon Witherspoon with the sixth pick if he had not been taken by Seattle at pick five.
What is strange is that Detroit could have taken Texas running back Bijan Robinson, but instead traded back to twelve to net themselves an extra second round pick and take Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama.
Everyone was stunned. Studio hosts, fans and anyone with an interest in the draft. The pick was widely panned because the team most likely could have had Gibbs with the early second round pick they obtained from the Cardinals.
When Detroit went with Iowa linebacker jack Campbell, another projected second round pick was taken at 18 and everyone wondered about the Lions brain trust or lack thereof.
Both Holmes and Campbell lucked into gold two years ago with Oregon tackle Penei Sewell falling to them at seven. The were equally lucky when Aiden Hutchinson of Michigan fell to them in 2022.
Still, Holmes and Campbell better be right this year. They are taking players that they feel are Lions players and they do not care about where they are on Mel Kiper's board.
For the sake of their jobs, the Holmes/Campbell duo better have guessed right or Sheila Ford Hemp will take the keys to the T-Bird away.
Jalen Carter, Aaron Rodgers and the Jets
The Detroit Lions are drafting at six and we already know that. Recently, Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes met with the enigmatic Jalen Carter, the defensive tackle from Georgia. Once the possible first overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft, character concerns from multiple high speed chases including one that resulted in two deaths have put a huge question mark on him.
The Lions were trying to take a deep dive on Carter and seem to have some resolution on whether they take Carter at six if he is still there.
The family of one of the Georgia fatalities are now suing everyone involved in the accident and guess who may sit squarely in a lawsuit? You guessed it.
Other concerns about Carter is why does he play football. The Lions want players that love the game. Those in the Georgia program whisper that Carter plays on his talent and he doesn't have the strongest work ethic.
The Lions have to be satisfied with all of the above if they take Carter. That and drafting at six, at least three players between one and five must be quarterbacks. Stay tuned.
The Jets and Packers finally consummated their trade for Aaron Rodgers. Most of the value of the trade is whether Rodgers plays at least a second season with the Jets. Knowing Rodgers and his penchant for drama, bet he plays this situation for all its worth and gives the Jets management a headache they do not want. That and the 2023 version of Rodgers is not the 2015 version. The Jets will tell you he's better than Zach Wilson. They are right. Which leads to...In the worst case of currently being in limbo in the NFL, it has to be Jets dethroned QB Zach Wilson. Wilson was the Jets first round pick in 2021 and his performance and leadership skills were so underwhelming, he was benched multiple times and finally ended up the 2022 season as a backup. Enter Aaron Rodgers. Jets GM XXX Joe Douglas ??? told a group of season ticket holders that Rodgers is playing for the team in 2023 and Wilson will back up a QB who is famous for being frosty with anyone who plays as a backup to him. Not sure what Wilson will learn from Rodgers directly, so he better watch intently. The Jets have signed former Green Bay backup Tim Boyle and my guess is he will be the backup. Where that leaves Wilson is anyone's guess. Wilson is in the third year of his rookie deal and most fans and many in the organization would prefer Wilson get a fresh start elsewhere. His value on the trade market is not much and will stay that way unless he starts and succeeds. This only happens if Wilson is playing and Rodgers is not. Unless AR is injured, Wilson will sit and stew and collect his money while carrying the a clipboard.
Jameson Williams has multiple red flags since being drafted.
When it comes to gambling, the Detroit Lions have a history of players getting busted for it. Alex Karras - Lions and Paul Hornung of the Packers missed the 1962 season for their actions and Jameson Williams is the headline player for the four players currently on the Lions who were given suspensions yesterday. Lions GM Brad Holmes swiftly cut two of the four players and when its fallout continues, only Williams will be left on the roster when fall camp ends before the 2023 season.
Williams case is a curiosity. The Lions knew Williams might not play in 2022 and they did get a 41-yard touchdown grab out of him. Other than that, he was a decoy in his other games last year. He did have a 40 yard run in another game, but why was Jameson basically not used in those games? The Lions said he was behind in reps in comparison with his other teammates.
Well, Williams should have been doing walkthroughs in those games he could not play. He should have had the playbook down. For me, this makes little sense.
It was curious that Holmes said in March that Williams needed to take football more seriously.
Here is a Holmes quote from a March presser.
"I don’t think anything he did this year is anywhere remotely close to where he’s going to go,” Holmes said of Williams. “We’ll determine what that role is and a lot of it is on him too. He’s going to have to put the work in this offseason, he’s going to have to be dedicated in his approach."
Why would the Lions GM have to say that about a player? It kind of tells me that between Williams' not having any roll in the offense no matter how minor to the gambling charge and lack of commitment in the off season, the Lions might have a bust on their hands. Just saying.
Kyle Kirkwood wins Long Beach from the pole for first career IndyCar victory
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Kyle Kirkwood won the first race of his IndyCar career Sunday by holding off Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean on the downtown streets of Long Beach.
Kirkwood won the pole a day earlier for the Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Jupiter, Florida, native then closed out the win at the most prestigious street course race in the United States.
“I am over the moon,” said Kirkwood, who blinked back tears.
He was challenged mid-race by defending Long Beach winner Josef Newgarden, but reclaimed the lead when the Team Penske driver pitted for new tires. Kirkwood stayed out for a handful more laps and was able to make his stop for tires and get back on track before Newgarden could reclaim the lead.
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Newgarden, the winner two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, dropped to sixth and Kirkwood’s primary challengers over the closing laps were Grosjean and Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing.
But neither got close enough to make an attempt at the pass for the win, and Kirkwood celebrated his first win with Andretti.
He was part of Andretti’s development system but the team didn’t have an open IndyCar seat for him when it came time to promote him last season. Kirkwood instead spent the year driving for A.J. Foyt Racing and returned to Andretti this season as the replacement for Alexander Rossi.
Team owner Michael Andretti has so much faith in the 24-year-old that he made a personnel change two weeks ago to move Bryan Herta to Kirkwood’s timing stand as strategist. Herta had spent the last two seasons as the strategist for his son, Colton.
“It’s great for a young driver,” Andretti said. “He helped Colton I think a lot when he started out. I think we just felt like it was better for the team.”
Grosjean finished second and was followed by Ericsson, Colton Herta, and Alex Palou of Ganassi as Honda drivers swept the top-five.
Will Power of Team Penske was the highest-finishing Chevrolet at sixth. Newgarden faded to ninth.
Ericsson took the points lead through three races from Pato O’Ward, who finished 17th after being involved in an early incident that left six-time champion Scott Dixon unhappy and later spun in the race.
Callum Ilott arrived in Long Beach ranked seventh in the IndyCar standings and one of only six drivers to notch top-10 finishes in the first two races.
His success ended early.
Ilott crashed ahead of Saturday qualifying when he drove over curbing that had not been on the track during Friday’s practice. IndyCar did not inform teams that the curbing had been installed overnight and Ilott felt the series should pay Juncos Hollinger Racing for the crash damage.
Come Sunday, Ilott had to pit with a blown tire early in the race and dropped a lap off the pace. He finished 19th.
Agustin Canapino, meanwhile, led the first lap of his IndyCar career but the rookie from Argentina was later knocked out of the race for his first DNF of the season in a disappointing day for JHR.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves crashed on the opening lap and was barely able to pull away in time to remain on the lead lap. The Brazilian drove his wounded car back to the pits without its front wing and Meyer Shank Racing worked furiously to get Castroneves back on track.
It was the second time through three races this season that Castroneves crashed on the opening lap. He and teammate Simon Pagenaud were both knocked out of the season-opener in a multi-car crash.
NFL Thoughts for the Week
Lions Roundtable: How Free Agency Impacts Draft Plans
Story by Vito Chirco • Yesterday 4:08 AM
How the Detroit Lions draft plans were impacted by free agency.
1.) Are you surprised DJ Chark only signed for $5 million with the Panthers?
Christian Booher: I am. It's puzzling, because I feel that his performance could've commanded more on the free-agency market. However, the market was down for wideouts, so it's not the most surprising news.
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Chark was productive when healthy for Detroit, but those health issues likely led to his price being lowered. The Lions have to feel good about what they already have in Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams, so they were likely okay with letting him go and spending that cap space on other needs.
Vito Chirco: I am a bit surprised, because Chark did provide some solid production for the Lions down the stretch of the season after he developed a rapport with starting signal-caller Jared Goff.
However, there is also the fact that Chark has played in a total of just 15 games the past two seasons. That definitely played a factor in bringing down his market value.
Still, at the end of the day, signing the veteran wideout to a one-year, $5 million deal is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Panthers.
2.) Who should replace Chark on the Lions' roster?
Booher: I think the obvious answer is Jameson Williams. He's got the potential to be a standout in Detroit's offense, having the speed of Tyreek Hill and the size of a prototypical "X" receiver.
However, Detroit could benefit from adding another wideout. Whether it's through free agency or the draft, the Lions could help their offense by bringing in another player at the position. In free agency, former Lions wideout Marvin Jones Jr. makes sense as a possible short-term replacement.
Chirco: Let's just say this ... it's time for Jameson Williams to step up now. Williams, the No. 12 overall selection in last year's draft, showcased glimpses of big-play potential a season ago, but in an extremely limited capacity. Even before the departure of Chark, more was going to be expected of the second-year receiver.
But now, there is no doubt that Williams will need to produce on a much more consistent basis, in order to replace the production of Chark in 2023. I think the former Alabama wideout will be up to the task.
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK© Provided by All Lions on FanNation3.) What is your reaction to the Lions bringing back QB Nate Sudfeld?
Related video: Detroit Lions Are 2023 Free Agency Winners (All Lions on FanNation)
John, when you evaluate all the moves made thus far
All Lions on FanNation
Detroit Lions Are 2023 Free Agency Winners
View on WatchBooher: It's not super surprising given his veteran presence. I think Sudfeld is an adequate backup behind Jared Goff.
I also don't think the Lions are done. I expect them to draft a signal-caller in April, who will then compete with Sudfeld for the backup spot in training camp. Sudfeld's presence doesn't prevent them from taking a quarterback in the draft.
Chirco: It was a bit puzzling and definitely disappointing to me. Even before the end of the 2022 season, there was plenty of talk about the Lions making a concerted effort to upgrade the backup QB spot this offseason. By bringing back Sudfeld for another year, Detroit has definitely failed to do that.
Sudfeld provides little-to-no competition to Lions incumbent starter Jared Goff, and there's no proof that Sudfeld could step in for Goff, in the case of emergency, and provide stability for Detroit under center.
The only saving grace regarding this move is that Holmes & Co. could still choose to add a signal-caller via this April's NFL Draft. I fully expect the Lions to still do that.
4.) How will decisions the Lions made in free agency impact their draft needs?
Booher: I think the free-agency decisions push cornerback down the list of needs. Other than that, though, I don't think they impact the needs that much. The Lions struggled mightily on defense, and for that reason, I believe each of the positions on that unit remain in need of improvement.
The same can be said about the offense. Detroit added a running back and a guard through free agency, but both positions may need reinforcements. After all, the guards could still need stability, and running back D'Andre Swift is entering the final year of his contract.
Chirco: I don't know how much those moves really will impact their draft decisions.
I say that because despite all the additions that Detroit has made to its defensive backs room, there is still a variety of mock drafts projecting Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez to the Lions at No. 6 overall (and for good reason). As wild as that sounds, cornerback was such a weakness for Detroit in 2022 that it wouldn't hurt Holmes & Co. to add another high-impact corner (i.e. Gonzalez) to the room.
It could go a long way toward flipping the script for the organization defensively and ensuring that the cornerback position is actually a strength for the team heading into the 2023 campaign.
5.) If the Lions could draft K Jake Moody, QB Hendon Hooker or WR Jayden Reed, who would you want?
Booher: I'm going to go with Reed. Of the three, he has the best chance to make an immediate impact. I like his game a lot, as he makes plenty of big plays despite being undersized.
Moody has a big leg, but the Lions have an incumbent in Michael Badgley. I would prefer the Lions take a later-round signal-caller in the draft rather than Hooker, as he is coming off an injury and played in a scheme that may not translate to the NFL.
Chirco: I'm going to go with Hendon Hooker. Despite the presence of Nate Sudfeld, Detroit could still use a backup quarterback, and everybody in college football saw how good Hooker was before he suffered a season-ending ACL tear late in the 2022 season. He showcased signs of being a dynamite, dual-threat passer, and he ended up finishing his Tennessee career with 58 touchdown passes and only five interceptions.
Sure, Reed, with his big-play ability, would be a nice addition to Detroit's receivers room, especially after the departure of Chark. However, I'm still going with Hooker here, a quarterback that potentially could be groomed to be Goff's successor.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES Unveils New Campaign Voiced by Drivers
INDIANAPOLIS (Wednesday, March 1, 2023) – The NTT INDYCAR SERIES offers the most competitive and challenging racing in motorsports, and its new promotional campaign will bring all the action, drama and intrigue to new audiences as the season gets ready to launch this weekend.
The first INDYCAR campaign spot of the year – “ZERO” – focuses on the fierce race for victory at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding at St. Petersburg, Florida, where exactly ZERO mistakes can be made by the driver hoping to stand atop the podium Sunday, March 5.
“ZERO” is narrated by 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race winner Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske.
SEE: ‘ZERO’ Campaign Spot
In the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, every track and every race is different – but the one thing they have in common is their combination of breakneck speed, harrowing turns, epic crashes and unbeatable competition. As the season progresses, INDYCAR will introduce a new spot, tailored to various stops on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES calendar and narrated by a driver with a special tie to that event.
“We know our racing is the best on the planet, and we know there’s no greater challenge in motorsport than winning an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race,” said Penske Entertainment President & CEO Mark Miles. “From a very personal and engaging perspective, our drivers are going to tell everyone what makes our sport unique and what it takes to win at each specific venue.”
Spots will run from Wednesday to Sunday of Race Week and are part of a larger multichannel, national media plan.
INDYCAR partnered with creative agency Motive to develop the spots and with local Indianapolis agency EchoPoint Media as a paid media partner. The next spot will be unveiled ahead of the PPG 375 on Sunday, April 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch wins final NASCAR Cup race on two-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway
BY Steve Hensen
As farewells go, it was chilly. And weepy.
The Fontana air had a pronounced bite Sunday for the last NASCAR race on the venerable two-mile Auto Club Speedway oval, less than 24 hours after snow improbably blanketed much of the Inland Empire.
The track wept, and that isn’t an attempt at personification. Trapped rainwater from the last few days seeped from under cracks and seams in the porous, 26-year-old asphalt, forming what drivers call “weepers” — slick, wet spots that can cause a driver to lose control, especially when tire treads become worn.
But the track was drivable, and competitors can read it and weep: Kyle Busch ended a mini slump, winning going away.
Who could be surprised that Busch took the last Auto Club 400 even though he is coming off a down season in which he won only one Cup Series race? It was his fifth Auto Club victory, including his first Cup Series win in 2005 and his 200th overall win in 2019.
It also was his first win in just his third race with Richard Childress Racing after 15 years with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“That all makes it memorable,” Busch said. “I love California and this speedway has always been great to me. The fans here have been great.”
The win enabled him to reach other milestones. It marked the 19th season in a row that he has won a Cup Series race, one year longer than that of previous record-holder Richard Petty. It also was the 95th Cup Series victory for brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch, breaking the record held by Bobby and Donnie Allison.
Kurt Busch greeted Kyle with a hug in victory lane.
Kyle Busch performs a burnout near the start/finish line after winning at Fontana on Sunday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Kyle Busch celebrates with the checkered flag on the track after winning Sunday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)“It’s neat to have him be there,” Kyle said. “He was emotional, he’s getting soft in his old age. It’s fun to set records always, and when you’re able to do it as a brother tandem, there’s nothing more special for our parents, I’m sure.”
Chase Elliott finished second with a strong final 30 laps and was followed by Ross Chastain and Kevin Harvick.
“The track conditions were fine,” Harvick said. “I didn’t really see weepers and it was just really dirty every run. The second half of the race it cleaned up, but it was hard on the windshields. In the end, they did a great job preparing the track and we were able to put on a good race.”
Crews got to work Sunday at 5:30 a.m. to stem the tears, employing enormous track-drying apparatuses — Air Tundras, Buffalo Turbine Blowers, Jet Dryers and a sweeper truck. They also used hand saws and drills to create troughs in the track where water could drain from outside banks to the apron.
The Cup Series race started on time at 12:30 p.m. in front of a sellout crowd of about 50,000, and the drivers lined up five wide during pace laps before the drop of the green flag, an impressive sight meant to salute the fans that supported the two-mile track since it opened in 1997.
The track was reasonably dry and occasional weepers weren’t the only problem. By Lap 40, the front of cars looked like they’d been sandblasted, and pit crews had to be mindful not to slip on debris that shook out of grills during stops.
Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott return to site of teammate tension at Auto Club
In the late laps of last year’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott found themselves jockeying for the lead and potential victory.
It ended with Larson putting Elliott in the wall as the duo ran three-wide with Joey Logano down the frontstretch with 21 laps remaining. Larson darted high, unaware Elliott had a full head of steam heading to the outside lane. Elliott was walled, and his race ruined. Larson went on to win the race.
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The collision triggered a meeting of the minds of all four Hendrick drivers and team owner Rick Hendrick himself.
The Cup Series returns to Fontana, California on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), one year since the incident, which left Elliott stewing in the immediate aftermath. Larson says their relationship is in decent shape these days — despite being frayed again in an August battle at Watkins Glen International.
“I think Fontana was easier to get over for him because it was the first time something happened,” Larson said at Daytona 500 Media Day. “I think Watkins Glen was tougher to get over because it happened a second time. But I think since then — I mean, it took weeks, I would say, to get moved on from it. But I feel like we’re in a good, an OK spot right now.
“You know, we both did an appearance together, you know, a few weeks ago in California, and we were playing on a golf simulator together. So I feel like like everything’s OK.”
At Watkins Glen, six months after their Fontana kerfuffle, Larson lined up to Elliott’s right on the front row with five laps to go. Heading into the 90-degree, right-hand first turn, Larson ran Elliott wide to escape with the lead and eventual win. Elliott stumbled to fourth at the checkered flag.
“Fontana was a mistake. Watkins Glen was not a mistake,” Larson said at Daytona. “You know, we were battling for the win. But you don’t want to make those moves, and it was a rough few weeks for me in my seat. So I don’t want to be a part of that ever again. So yeah, I think, I think we’re OK. And our teams continue to work well together, which I think was the most important piece of it.”
News and Notes: Super Bowl Style
The Detroit Lions should try to trade for Rams CB Jalen Ramsey
Story by Mike Payton •
The Detroit Lions have me thinking about the MCU right now (Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the uninitiated). You know, the one with the superheroes who are trying to save the world from the powerful Thanos. In the past, I’ve called Matt Patricia Thanos simply because it felt like he came here and snapped his fingers and half the Lions we loved were gone and Detroit was left in shambles. I still believe that’s true, but for the sake of this story, let’s talk about another Thanos—a variant of the multiverse, if you will.
In this universe, Thanos isn’t really a person. He’s more of a celestial thing that hovers over the Detroit Lions franchise like a dark cloud. For years Thanos has been inevitable for the Lions. He’s caused this team to lose in new and embarrassing ways, and he’s the reason this team has missed out on the playoffs and any glory that comes along with it.
In the last two years, the Lions have formed something of an Avengers team that’s been able to get in shots on Thanos like they never have before. They’re so close to riding themselves off that dark cloud. They’re at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War” and all they have to do to get this guy to go away is go for the head.
The Lions are in a spot right now where their defense is coming along but still needs some important pieces to take it to the next level and beyond. They’ve already attacked the defensive line through the first two years, and they have young, promising players at linebacker. That’s two spots where they’re strong. As for the secondary, there’s one go-for-the-head type of move they can make to have them in the position where they’re holding the gauntlet and snapping their fingers. That’s making another trade with the Rams, this time for All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
I know there’s a bit of hesitancy from Lions fans about this move. I’ve been seeing the reactions to the idea on Twitter this week. The fear is that the Lions would likely have to part with a high draft pick to get it done. If that’s the case, I say make it happen.
The Lions have some things that the Rams don’t. They have a first-round draft pick. That’s something the Rams haven’t had since they selected current Lions starting quarterback Jared Goff in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Rams have sacrificed all those picks in order to build a championship team. They did that. Now they’re a team that’s more than likely headed towards a rebuild for multiple reasons that we don’t have to get into today. Matthew Stafford’s health is probably one of them though.
Related video: Former NFL Defensive End Jessie Lemonier Has Passed Away At 25 (Sports Illustrated)
The Lions hold the sixth overall pick, a pick that used to belong to the Rams. The Lions should keep that pick and offer the 18th pick to the Rams for Jalen Ramsey straight up.
Everyone gets what they want out of this deal. The Rams finally get a high-value draft pick to start rebuilding a young core of their team. They also get to free up some cap space. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, they’d still have to eat $19.6 million of his $25.2 million cap hit this year, but because they’re $14 million over the cap right now, every little bit helps.
Back on January 13, Ramsey posted a cryptic tweet that suggested his time in Los Angeles is done. So it’s possible the Rams were getting ready to move on from him anyways.
NFL insiders also believe he may be on the move. In a story by ESPN insider Jeremy Fowler, at least one NFL employee thinks the Rams would entertain a trade for Ramsey.
“[Ramsey] is one I think the Rams will at least explore [moving],” one AFC personnel director said. “He’s still a top guy, but the play has fallen off a little bit and [he] could use a change of scenery.”
The Lions get to shore up their cornerback situation damn near immediately. Sure there will still be work to do, but the Lions inherit the corner that finished with the third-highest PFF grade for corners in the NFL this season. They can pair him up with Jeff Okudah and company and still use one of their top 100 picks on another corner. Perhaps Stanford’s Kyu Blu Kelly would fit the bill. Lions defensive assistant Shaun Dion Hamilton will be working with Kelly and more corners at the Senior Bowl in a couple weeks, giving the Lions an advantage when scouting this year’s class.
As for Ramsey, he gets to go from a team that had a great culture to a team that arguably has the best culture in the league. He’ll reunite with Brad Holmes and Ray Agnew. The latter, of course, played a big role in bringing Ramsey to LA when he was the Rams director of pro personnel. On the coaching side, if Aaron Glenn remains with the Lions, Ramsey gets to work with a defensive coordinator that specializes in the defensive backs, being a former defensive back himself as well as a former defensive backs coach. He also reunites with Todd Wash, who may be coaching the defensive line now, but was the Jaguars defensive coordinator during Ramsey’s 3.5 seasons in Jacksonville.
The Lions are Thor right now. They have Thanos right where they want him. Trading for Ramsey means going for the head and ending him right now. Go this route, get Thanos off your back, and get yourself into the playoffs with possibly an NFC North title.
Lions Week 18 NFL win satisfying fans and other NFL Opinions
When the Detroit Lions beat the Chicago Bears to even their record at 8-8, head coach Dan Campbell was correct in saying his team played well but have played more complete games as a team in 2022. The Minnesota and Jacksonville games were their best and the NY Jets and Giants games showed the teams resilience.
Per NFL345, “Lions rookies Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston are the 1st pair of rookie teammates each with 7+ sacks since 1982. Hutchinson is the 1st rookie with 7+ sacks & 3+ INTs in a season since 1982. Houston is the 3rd player with 7 sacks in his 1st 6 career games since 1982.”
My bottom line is the Lions have won three of their last five at Lambeau Field after a long losing streak. It looks like Aaron Rodgers is back on form even though he has lost most of his passing targets. My best guess is this will be a very high scoring game. The Lions are more motivated than the Pack. It will come down to lady luck and it looks like the Lions finally have more talent than Green Bay. If the Lions can keep Rodgers from being one score away in the final drive, they win. If Rodgers can win it, even if behind, the Lions lose.
A few weeks ago, overhearing talk on excited fans believing the Lions would make the playoffs, nobody was prepared for me to say that it might be best if the team did not make the postseason.
The comment was blasphemous to Lions fans who want the team to make the Super Bowl tournament for the first time since 2016.
Personally, the fan in me would yes, I would love to see the team make the playoffs and I said so but it was unlikely the team would run the table in the waning weeks on the road in 2022.
The long-term thinking on this team believes the team, that was only 5-7 with a one in ten chance of making the playoffs at the time needs to stay hungry in 2022 with a chip on their shoulder going into the 2023 season.
My reasoning is that Dan Campbell would have the team's full attention in the 2022 offseason.
It would make the team a hot commodity in the 2023 free agent offseason and a destination for players that want both the money and to play for a team on the rise.
A second reason for my delay is the Lions need draft capitol. Who would have thought before this 2022 season that the Rams pick would be more valuable than the Lions own? Before the 6-1 run, the Lions were 1-6 and were slated to draft first or second half-way through the season. The reality is with two first round picks including the Rams pick likely coming in the top five plus a top second rounder and picks from the TJ Hockenson trade, the team is poised to plug some holes and get some playmakers on mostly, the pourous defensive side of the ball. The bottom line is some of the Lions best players are coming into the league and the Carolina Panthers loss might not have been a bad thing.
Finally, the Jared Goff situation. Goff has had a very solid year. A year where his absence from making the pro bowl was noted. He is a solid but unspectacular quarterback. He is worth a first-round pick to the right team. If management decides to flip him and ride it out with a top draft pick on a rookie deal, its worth watching.
The real clock on the Lions begins during the 2023 season. This season's teams rise is unexpected and for me, they have been playing with house money.
It would be great if they made the playoffs, but next year is where all of the young players need to be all in and take the franchise in a winning direction.
Reports: College Football Playoff board approves expanded format with 12 teams
The College Football Playoff will move to 12 teams after the Board of Managers approved expansion by an unanimous vote on Friday, according to multiple reports.
The expanded format will reportedly include the six highest ranked conference champions and the rest of the field will be made up of at-large selections, after the vote by the board, which consists of presidents from each of the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame.
The expansion could happen as early as the end of the 2024 season, but the 12-year contract the playoffs have with ESPN doesn't expire until after the 2025 season.
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The current four-team format started in 2014 after decades of discontent between coaches and fans about how the national champion is decided in football. Initially determined by media and coaches poll, the Bowl Championship Series was created in 1998 to match the top two teams in one game after the regular season. That system lasted through the 2013 season before the current College Football Playoff system was used.
The College Football Playoff logo is shown on the field at AT&T Stadium before an NCAA college football game.© Roger Steinman, APAlabama has won the most CFP championships with three, followed by Clemson with two. Ohio State, LSU and defending champion Georgia have one title each.
By Brandon Day- Courtesy of SB Nation-Well the time has finally come. After seven years, Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Al Avila, has been fired by the Detroit Tigers. We had an inkling this was coming, but it’s still surprising to see that Team President Chris Ilitch has decided to make the move. The Tigers announced the move themselves on Wednesday afternoon.
© Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORKThe Detroit Tigers fire general manager Al AvilaAvila was promoted to the role in August of 2015, after the firing of long-time GM Dave Dombrowski by previous owner Mike Ilitch. Starting with his first full season in 2016, the Tigers have a record of 404-573 under Avila heading into Wednesday night’s matchup against Cleveland.
Avila’s hiring was supposed to initiate a new era in Tigers baseball. The idea was to construct a modern organization largely from scratch after the final years of big payrolls left the Tigers’ minor league system in terrible shape both in terms of players, personnel, and facilities. At the same time, Avila was to oversee the 2016 re-tooling in a final attempt to turn out another winner for Mike Ilitch. On every front things went very poorly.
A tacit admission of the fact came last summer, when Avila fired his long-time head of player development head, Dave Littlefield, beginning a major overhaul in coaches and decision-makers in the player development system. At the time, those major changes to the front office engaged speculation that Avila had bought himself a few more years to turn things around after pretty poor progress to that point. Unfortunately for Avila, his attempts to build a team with the potential to at least begin competing for a playoff spot fell badly flat this year, and the prospect capital built up through years of losing hasn’t produced the stockpile of high end young talent that was hoped as of yet.
Meanwhile, the fanbase finally reached the limits of its patience this season. Anger and frustration has been the theme of the 2022 season, and we can only hope now that brighter days are ahead.
There is no word on Avila’s replacement. A press conferrence is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. EDT with Ilitch to discuss the firing and the plan to move forward in finding the next general manager of the Detroit Tigers.